Airline Performance in 2023 – Winners and Losers
The airline industry suffered arguably its worst two years during 2021 and 2022. The pandemic can explain many critiques, but there was a lot of self-inflicted harm to go around. US carriers were no different, but a 2023 audit revealed a sharp reduction in cancellations and much improved on-time arrivals. Nagging concerns such as passenger complaints, tarmac delays, and baggage handling remain, but the rebound from 21/22 was laudable.
The Wall Street Journal revealed its 16th annual airline scorecard, examining the overall performance of the largest US airlines. Numbers one and two remained constant compared to 2022 and 2021, but from there, quite a few carriers moved up and down the rankings in 2023.
Delta Air Lines
For the third consecutive year, Delta placed number one. Over the last seven years, the Atlanta-based airline has secured the leader position a remarkable six times. Delta placed no worse than fifth among the seven equally weighted operations metrics and was exemplary in a handful. Their best on-time arrival rate was notable, and Delta registered the lowest complaint rate.
One of the strategies that has consistently worked well for Delta is offering generous perks to customers who voluntarily switch flights due to overbooking. The volunteer walks away with a perk, and the flight takes off on time despite the overbooking. The one area that can improve with Delta, however, is cancelations.
Coming in number two was Alaska Airlines. The Washington carrier scored on par with Delta except for mishandled baggage and involuntary bumping. Alaska scored 3 and 4 points below Delta in both categories, respectively. Alaska battles Delta for West Coast passengers and finished with the lowest cancelation rate, something passengers certainly value and the same area Delta struggled with. Alaska spokespeople indicated the airline is introducing new baggage-tracking processes that, believe it or not, are replacing pen and paper in some airports.
Southwest Airlines had a miserable 2022 and early 2023. Unhappy customers went to social media to express “holiday travel from hell,” which predictably affected the airline’s bottom line.
In 2022 alone, Southwest went from the fewest to the third most complaints in under 12 months.
While Southwest struggled, Frontier really underperformed. Per 100,000 passengers, Frontier averaged 38.5 complaints, an unreal four times the average rate of the major airlines. Fares were the principal complaint, followed by flight problems and refund snafus.
Lastly, Jetblue finished last in on-time arrivals, delays longer than 45 minutes, canceled flights, and tarmac delays. The airline launched a reliability campaign in 2023 and only canceled 1.8% of flights compared to 3.3% in 2022. Positive news, but Jetblue serves a demanding East Coast client base with little patience for errors.